Last September, I joined other eco-minded journalists in Switzerland for an agricultural tour of the country. Where better than this breathtaking, food-loving country to consider the state of our planet’s food system? When we arrived in Salgesch, a town near the source of the Rhône River, the grapes in the terraced vineyards were about a week from harvest. Wild crocuses dotted the hillsides. The scene was set.
Agritourism, vacationing on farms and touring food-producing regions, is an inspiring way to reflect on what you eat and how it’s produced. In Switzerland, a country rooted in regional culinary traditions, each small town has something unique to offer. Take cheese making: According to François Morend-Gaillard at the Ferme de Champasse, his cheeses’ flavor has everything to do with the alpine grasses and plants his Herens (an endangered breed of black cows) eat. Strong and sweet, the raclette was uncommonly delicious. In every town, I found unwavering pride in local farms and foods. Organic wasn’t fringe; it was expected. (For highlights, check out my photos in the Switzerland: Local, sustainable foods gallery.)
The Swiss have some advantages, including a strong organic-consumer base and a government that subsidizes sustainable ag. And yet I learned that Swiss shoppers are buying cheaper imported foods grown with less stringent regulations at a higher rate than ever before. Making a living as a Swiss farmer would be impossible without government support—and second jobs. Like us, the Swiss are struggling to preserve their food traditions.
In honor of Earth Day, April 22, I invite you to reflect on the food culture in your hometown. Has a farmer, producer, or great seasonal meal inspired you lately? Post your musings, pictures, and local picks on our Facebook page, and read on for lots of great recipes and tips for eco-minded eating